Front Porch Forum is celebrating the start of spring and lots of mentions in the news recently which our members have noticed!
“A big shout out to let everyone know that the April issue of The Atlantic has an excellent article called The Internet Doesn’t Have To Be Awful. This article mentions our fantastic Vermont FPF as an example of how we can make the internet a space that promotes democratic values by helping to make conversations better to benefit everyone in a community.” • Sandy in Burlington
How to Put Out Democracy’s Dumpster Fire
By: Story by Anne Applebaum and Peter Pomerantsev
Instead of making people angry, participation in online forums can give them the same civic thrill that town halls or social clubs once did. “Elks Club meetings were what gave us experience in democracy,” he said. “We learned how to run an organization. We learned how to handle disagreement. We learned how to be civilized people who don’t storm out of an argument.”
Versions of this idea already exist. A Vermont-based site, Front Porch Forum, is used by roughly a quarter of the state’s residents for all sorts of community activity, from natural-disaster response to job-hunting, as well as civic discussion. Instead of encouraging users to interact as much and as fast as possible, Front Porch slows the conversation down: Your posts come online 24 hours after you’ve written them. Sometimes, people reach out to the moderators to retract something said in anger. Everyone on the forum is real, and they have to sign up using real Vermont addresses. When you go on the site, you interact with your actual neighbors, not online avatars.
Read the full article here.
“Kudos! FPF is showcased in the Atlantic. Upon which Fareed Zakaria (Foreign Affairs Quarterly, Global Public Square) highlighted FPF in his Global Briefing newsletter, “Can Online Politics Be Fixed?” • Alison in Burlington
Can Online Politics Be Fixed?
Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN’s Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Chris Good
In Vermont, a site called Front Porch Forum “is used by roughly a quarter of the state’s residents for all sorts of community activity, from natural-disaster response to job-hunting, as well as civic discussion,” Applebaum and Pomerantsev write. “Instead of encouraging users to interact as much and as fast as possible, Front Porch slows the conversation down
See the full newsletter here.
9 Projects Trying To Build Social Platforms That Don’t Make You Hate Yourself
By: Jeff Link
Now in its third software iteration, Front Porch Forum is a community-based forum where neighbors can share information and local concerns. Active in Vermont and parts of New York, the 20-year-old platform launched by Michael and Valerie Wood-Lewis trades in short posts about locally relevant topics lost pets, cars for sale, plumber recommendations, school budget issues and political protests. The service hosts online neighborhood and small-town forums for registered users.
“Once a day they’ll get an issue that arrives via email or website or mobile app,” Wood-Lewis said of users. “The average issue might have about 10 postings. It’s not emoticons. It’s not LOL-type stuff. It’s more substantive. The most compelling content tends to gravitate toward the top.”
“There’s no anonymity. It’s like wearing a name tag and showing up at a block party with your neighbors.”
Open only to local citizens, officials, nonprofits and businesses, the platform is distinct from several of its larger social-networking competitors.
“There’s no anonymity. It’s like wearing a name tag and showing up at a block party with your neighbors,” Wood-Lewis said during the panel discussion.
In addition, every posting is reviewed by a staff of online community managers before publication.
Read the full article here.
Virus in Vermont: In mutual aid groups, people help one another
By: Nora Peachin
Michael Wood-Lewis, co-founder of Front Porch Forum, says local communities have been weakened as life has moved online, a trend he has been trying to reverse with Front Porch Forum a community bulletin board since its founding in 2006.
“It would be my fondest wish that the social capital, those connections created in [mutual aid] work, don’t dissipate with the crisis,” Wood-Lewis said. “I hope all those mutual aid groups continue to live on, even if only as a social entity so that people can keep those connections in this time of political divisiveness and with all that big tech has foisted on us.”
Wood-Lewis noted a dramatic increase in almost all of Front Porch Forum’s metrics new members, postings, advertisers, clicks on ads during the pandemic. Wood-Lewis’ team set up a special category for mutual aid groups in the online directory and a list of ways to help during Covid.
Read the full article here.
Stay in tune with all the latest FPF mentions on our media page.
Front Porch Forum helps neighbors find the help they need, sometimes with only seconds to spare!
“FPF is amazing. Friday morning my computer power cord stopped working and one of the last things I managed to do online before my computer battery ran completely down was post to FPF looking for one. Within hours I had several responses, and by the end of the day I had a new-to-me power cord. Thank you so much!”
• Dvora in Worcester
“I sent out a post today asking for helping moving a couch up to my apartment. I received an overwhelming number of responses with offers. While I can’t respond to each of you, I want to say thank you! It’s comforting to know I moved to such a great community.” • Molly in Montpelier
“I can’t believe how many kind people responded to my question about the dryer not spinning. Thank you all very much! I am grateful for this helpful community. :-)” • Katie in Burlington
“We’re starting some babysitting for a grandchild, and are looking for all sorts of handy items….Through the wonders of FPF and the kindness of neighbors and strangers, we have already found a high chair, carseat and a fantastic orange stroller. Thank you FPF and neighbors!” • Loring & Michael in Calais
Town Meeting Day brings out conversation between neighbors on FPF.
“Thank you FPF Member Support for your clarification and endorsement of political discussion. I have no ‘dog in this fight’ but think the Reading election discussion is totally fascinating. I have enjoyed reading all the posts and if I didn’t, I simply wouldn’t. I almost can’t wait for the next installment. You all are exerting your democratic rights of free speech. And, what a great place we all have for doing that very thing – Front Porch Forum. FPF the highest “stump” for our communities and available for all to express their views on most issues. CHEERS to all the contributors on all sides of the discussion and thank you FPF for being there.” • Neil in Brownsville
“It looks like it is that time of year again, when we start seeing/reading heated discussions here on FPF. As your neighbor I would like to stress , as I have in the past, we are in this together. We all need to take a few minutes, calm our thoughts, and remember that most people want to do the right thing. We also should remember that we all make mistakes, no one ever learns anything without them. The key is to understand what went wrong, learn from it, and become a better person. I love living on this Island, and it is not only the location that I love, its also the community that is around me. It’s time to be respectful to one another, because “We are in this together.” • Matthew in Grand Isle
“I wanted to write and thank FPF for moderating our town bulletin board. The world seems like it has changed so much over the past few years…but I guess there have always been tough conversations to have about how certain people share in public. It must be incredibly challenging for you all to make decisions on what content to ban. Your platform has brought towns together in such a lovely way, and I appreciate the way it connects us in rural Vermont.” • Mary in Underhill
From maple creemee tours to swimming holes, farmers markets to local writers, there’s plenty of hidden gems that any new Vermont resident simply must check out. One perfect example is the locally grown VPR podcast, Brave Little State; it will tell you all you need to know about making your home in the Green Mountain State! We think their tip about joining FPF is especially good 🙂
From bread fairies and neighborhood scavenger hunts, to Little Free Pantries and mutual aid networks, Front Porch Forum members have been reaching outto offer their love and support to each other. This Valentine’s Day we share the love neighbors have for their communities.
While there were too many heart-warming postings and stories to choose from this especially difficult year, here are a few that made us feel warm and fuzzy:
“I heartily praise Northfield’s “gem of a library” and know that there are many additional people, organizations and businesses that have also done a lot to help our community through these recent months. I’d like to suggest taking some time to send a card or email, or perhaps make a phone call, to thank those who have made a real difference in your life. And, in that spirit, thanks FPF for helping me stay connected to the community while I isolate at home!” • Sue in Northfield
“Today, I want to reach out to everyone I have had the opportunity to meet, within the Starksboro community, and to those I hope to meet in the future. I want to say how thankful I am for this community. We are a little shelter of giving and caring and reaching out. Welcome to the newer residents. I have the fortune of knowing there are folks who help, and give, and tire themselves for other needier people around them. I have the fortune that I can disagree with someone’s politics and still be grateful they are my neighbor. Take care everyone this winter season. Reach out. Extend your love and care. Ask for help. We all need to know we are not alone.” • Carin in Starksboro
“I am so grateful for the business owners, healthcare workers, teachers, school nurses, sanitation staff, grocery store staff, and so many others who are obligated to risk their health for the sake of the community, or the sake of themselves and their family as they hold an in-person job while so many of us are struggling at home. Sending thanks and love to the children and teens in this community, whose resilience astounds me and inspires me to keep going, keep making safe decisions to keep their schools open and their lives as close to normal as possible.” • Lauren in Waitsfield
“This is my first time in a small community and the love and support of total strangers has overwhelmed me. I don’t remember everyone’s names, but you have provided me with rides to work, tires, ironing board and iron, and the list goes on. When I post a need, I receive multiple emails. I am grateful to each and every one of you.” • Gloria in Morrisville
Burlington, VT, February 3, 2021 — Front Porch Forum now has 200,000 members! This recent membership milestone indicates FPF is serving 75% of the state’s 260,000 households, and more Vermonters sign up every day.
In recognition of this growth, FPF expanded its team of Online Community Managers. We welcome new hires, Emily Bissonette and Zach Scheffler, who will help the organization fulfill its mission of helping neighbors connect.
As part of FPF’s 22 staff members, our Online Community Managers (OCMs) play a crucial role in reviewing and publishing many thousands of member postings each week, and providing member support.
Zach says of his new role “It’s a joy and an honor helping Vermonters inform, inspire, and look out for one another.”
Zach has a background in community media and municipal information services. Outside of Front Porch Forum, Zach enjoys a brisk hike, photography, and woodworking.
Emily joined the OCM team in September 2020. “I really enjoy the collaborative work environment at FPF. I’m originally from Vermont and I am also really enjoying being more informed about what’s going on in our state through my FPF work,” she said of her work.
Emily resides in Middlebury with her sweetheart, and kiddo, and a miscellaneous menagerie including a dog, a cat, chickens, and various waterfowl. She is the only Marie Kondo Certified Professional Organizer in Vermont, and when she’s not at work for Front Porch Forum, she focuses on business, Alchemy Organizing or teaching REFIT® dance fitness.
Front Porch Forum is an award-winning Vermont Public Benefit Corporation. Our mission is to help neighbors connect and build community, leading to more resilient communities. FPF hosts regional networks of online local forums where neighbors, small businesses, nonprofits and municipal officials post about a wide variety of topics. This daily neighborly exchange leads to people feeling more invested in their communities and getting more involved.
Front Porch Forum is gaining some remarkable national attention these days. It’s an honor to be featured and recognized for our community building work, local focus and approach to digital tech. Check out some of the cool things that have been happening with FPF in the media below:
“To Thrive, Our Democracy Needs Digital Public Infrastructure”
Jan. 5, 2021
By: Eli Pariser and Danielle Allen of Politico
“…what we need are not just information services with a mission-driven agenda, but spaces where people can talk, share and relate without those relationships being distorted and shaped by profit-seeking incentive structures. We are just beginning to see glimpses of what these spaces might look like. One model is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum…two-thirds of Vermont households are on the Forum, and many Vermonters find it a valuable place for thoughtful public discussions…
…Built into the premise of this work is the notion that what’s needed is not one publicly owned Facebook clone, but an armada of localized, community-specific, public-serving institutions that can serve the functions in digital space that community institutions have served for centuries in physical places. Vermont’s Front Porch Forum and other examples show this is possible, even in the digital age.”
Read the full article here.
“Imagining Our Social Media Future”
Jan. 15, 2021
Hosted by: Brooke Gladstone of WNYC Studios and featured on NPR
Brooke Gladstone and Eli Pariser explore the limitations mainstream social media places on real communities. Welcoming and thought-provoking digital spaces make community building more possible. How the spaces are designed will decide how we participate in them.
“I’m inspired by examples like Front Porch Forum in Vermont, which is kind of like a slow social network…it’s very heavily moderated local email list that you can post to [daily]. If you post something and it’s against the rules and norms it gets sent back to you with a nice little note saying like “hey can you try saying this a different way.” The once-a-dayness is really important because you have to have a lot of stamina and energy to sustain an argument across 14 days of back-and-forth. What’s interesting about Front Porch Forum is it’s used by a huge portion of households in Vermont. Local representatives in Vermont are on Front Porch Forum because they know that’s where the issues of the day are being discussed and addressed.”
Listen to the full, 15-minute discussion here.
Highlights from the New Public Festival, held Jan. 12-14, by Micah Sifry
“Given all the problems with civic engagement today widespread misinformation, heightened polarization, online mobs (and their offline manifestations), fears of censorship by over-empowered tech bros, social isolation, increased mood disorders from online addiction, the list goes on and on–should we fix the tech platforms, or should we start over?”
Front Porch Forum co-founder, Michael Wood-Lewis, presented alongside dozens of other tech innovators and project leaders working to shape the future of tech spaces. For more information on who participated in this year’s New Public Festival or to sign up for more information, visit here.
“These 14 principles could help big platforms create healthier social media”
“The Civic Signals founders say they have had some discussions with big tech companies about their work. But they also see the signals as useful to smaller and nontraditional operations, including publicly operated civic forums and smaller platforms like the Vermont-run Front Porch Forum, a network of neighborhood-based sites.
“We have a realistic view of what can happen in traditional tech-startup world, and we don’t think that all of these public functions can be served just by private companies alone,” Pariser says. ‘There’s a role for public infrastructure as well.'”
Read the full article here.
“Could Tax Dollars Fund Smaller, Better Social Media?”
“…Users will need a brigade of options “localized, community-specific, public-serving institutions that can serve the functions in digital space that community institutions have served for centuries in physical places,” as Pariser wrote in Politico.
One model that Pariser has pointed to is Vermont’s Front Porch Forum, a 20-year-old local forum/digital newsletter that has become an unlikely model for online communities.”
Read more here.
Also, check out more commentary from Eli Pariser from Dec. 2020 on an episode of Your Undivided Attention from the Center for Humane Technology here.
The staff at FPF was touched to rediscover this 2006 Seven Days article titled “Front Porch Forum Encourages Neighborliness — Online and Off.” It’s heartening to see how far Front Porch Forum has come over 14 years.
The article explains how FPF got started. At the time it was written, co-founder Michael Wood-Lewis compiled e-newsletters alone.
“Though Wood-Lewis is currently working on FPF as a volunteer, he sees his time as an investment. He’s hoping that as the service expands, he’ll be able to find local businesses to sponsor it.”
Now the organization has a growing staff of 22. It’s been put to use in communities all over the state, and now serves parts of New York and Williamstown, Massachusetts. The look and feel of the Email Forum has been redesigned and members can now also read their Forum via mobile app and the website.
Check out the full piece for an awesome throwback (complete with a MySpace reference!)